One of the core concepts of my Indian
rhythms book involves the use of five basic building blocks from which
pretty much everything is
constructed. Here we will look at some of these units and use them in
creating fill based ideas. The unit we will look at this time is this
seven beat unit.
If we start this on beat one in 4/4 it will fill up seven quarter notes
before coming back on the beat after four repeats. Therefore, to use
this in 4/4 as a fill we would need to add one quarter note or four
sixteenth notes at the end. (Ex 2) I have indicated the phrase marks
underneath and marked the 'end unit' with two asterix and the number of
sixteenth notes. ( **4 )
Then of course we could put the 4/16 ‘end unit’ at the beginning instead
as in example 3. Here, I have indicated the 'prefix unit' as a single
asterix along with the number of sixteenths. ( *4 ) The reason for the
different terminology here is that the idea of 'prefix' and 'end' units
is central to the shorthand I will employ later.
Now with different prefixes and end units we can start to construct
different rhythmic phrases. For now this is all on the snare drum but we
would be looking to develop these frameworks into fills. The ideal
scenario is for the 'prefix' to be a continuation of the time from
whatever precedes this whilst the 'units' and 'end units' would become a
fill around the toms or whatever.
Next we have a different configuration which involves a prefix of eight
sixteenths, then three of our 7/16 units and then the 'end' unit is 3/16
to fill up our 4/4 time frame. Of course, it can be in any time
An easy way to write this in shorthand would be.
*8 / 7 7 7 / **3 This may seem a little mathematical in concept but
is a really great way to instantly have at hand lots of ideas in a
Next, *5 / 7 7 7 / **6
One of the purposes of this particular system is to get to a position
where one can improvise with this stuff on the fly. The ability to be
able to hit into an odd repetitive phrase at any point in the bar and
conclude and resolve on the first beat by adding a filler component at
the end is definitely a good skill to aquire. For example hit in to a
repetitive 7/16 phrase within 4/4 and as the first beat comes around add
a different length unit to hit the first beat of the next bar. This is
not something that would happen in Indian music at all but for fill
concepts out of that idiom it is a good way to use the rhythmic units.
A summary of our shorthand;
1. A 'prefix' unit ( Abreviated as a single asterix + the unit
length in sixteenths, for example *7 )
2. The basic repetitive unit abbreviated as simply the number of
3. An 'End' unit ( Abreviated as a double asterix + the
unit length in sixteenths, for example **7 )
The rhythmic unit we will use next is five sixteenths long. Bear in
mind, you can use any type of unit or phrase to repeat.
Next up we will have a long prefix and repeat this unit straight four
times. The shorthand would be. *12 / 5 5 5 5
Now we will split the prefix and put some of this at the end. We are
using building blocks so you can really do what you want with them
Now lets use that and make the prefix as part of a paradiddle based
groove, then some cymbal hits to emphasize the units and a faster
triplet roll to wind up the 'end' unit.
Any sort of combinations are possible. Use this framework below to
create some other stuff.
*7 / 5 5 5 5 5
Now we will look at a more groove based application using this concept.
We will centre this around a five note sticking.
Now lets get this on the hi hat and snare with a bit of bass drum in
If we repeat this twice but on the second repeat bring the right hand
over for a back beat on the snare. This can work in 5/4 but is also
great in 4/4 as quintuplets.
Now lets get this happening in 4/4 as sixteenths, not quintuplets. We
will use a 'prefix' of eight, plus four phrase units and then an 'end
unit' of four. Each combination throws up different rhythmic poetry.
When developing these ideas some things work and some things don't so it
is really a process of experimentation.
We could actually understand this better when we see all the individual
components rather than written straight in 4/4
Remember that these are building blocks and you can experiment and do
what you want with them. Below we have it jumbled up again. Remember our
shorthand from the previous articles? It would look like this.
5 5 / *8 / 5 5 / **4
This whole concept could go in a million different directions and it is
down to your own imagination. This is just the departure lounge!
Now we will develop our concept of phrases into odd time signatures. I
often get asked about methods and techniques for playing in odd time
signatures. This is as we all know very common in Indian rhythm.
Because of the way they construct a lot of their rhythm work it actually
becomes irrelevant whether they are in an odd time signature. For
example, if ones concepts include additive rhythmic building blocks
within 4/4 then it is less of a leap to use these in other time
signatures. For example, 9+9+9+5 (32) in 4/4 is not radically different
from 9+9+5+5 (28) in 7/4.
Besides this, it is important to slowly add to your concepts and
frameworks within odd time signatures. It will always be more of a
challenge to improvise freely over odd time signatures than even but the
more material we have at our fingertips then the easier this will be.
Lets start in 7/4. We are looking at concepts here mainly for developing
fills but these can also be used for groove and rhythm constructs. Lets
look at our bar of 7/4 and use the first two quarter notes as the count
off period where one will continue with whatever groove is being played.
If we count off two quarter notes then we are left with five quarter
notes which could for this example be divided as 4 x 5/16.
Here is the basic skeletal structure.
Here we have it on kit with some time in the first portion and a more
fill based approach to the second part.
Next we will do a similar thing in 5/4. (I have notated it in 10/4).
First the skeletal structure divided as 3 /4 + 7/4.
And finally we see it orchestrated with a sticking for the drum set.
"You were born an
original; don't die a copy."
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